Dogs are provably wonderful for mental health, and are increasingly used in therapies both official and unofficial. There are many reasons someone in need of companionship might not have a dog of their own, and for those situations, therapy dogs are the answer.
Therapy dogs aren’t generally working service animals–they don’t have to undergo a puppyhood of specialized training to serve as an individual’s close companion and lifeline. Often, they’re simply pets with generous owners and some extra training.
The New York Times has just published an intimate look at the process of turning your pet into a therapy dog. It might sound like a lot of work, but according to the author there are benefits for the owner as well as the people who get to enjoy the dog’s company:
During our first visit to patients at my local hospital, a woman who said she’d had a “terrible morning” invited Max onto her bed, showered him with affection and, crying with pleasure, thanked me profusely for bringing him around to cheer her up.
Moments later, on the pediatrics ward, a preverbal toddler hospitalized with croup spotted Max and came charging down the hall squealing with delight. The two met eye-to-eye; Max even appeared to smile, and she giggled as she patted his head.
I don’t know about Max, but I was hooked. I agreed to bring him for monthly patient visits, with a promise to do more if my schedule permitted, and I was able to do the required pre-visit bath.
Your dog needs to have a great temperament, of course, and be generally calm and trainable. But if you have a great pup, you may be able to share all those intangible benefits–endorphin boosts, lowered stress, eased anxiety and depression–with folks who can also benefit from your pup’s company.
And the best part? Puppy love is an endlessly renewable resource.